USFL Week 9 Recap: Breakers Complete the Playoff Picture

New Orleans Breakers QB Kyle Sloter
New Orleans Breakers QB Kyle Sloter
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

USFL - Week 9 of the USFL season is in the books, as is the competitive portion of the regular season. The New Orleans Breakers are going to Canton, meaning we know all four playoff teams with one week to go in the regular season. Technically, last place in the USFL North is still up for grabs, but everything else is all wrapped up.

We won't even have an undefeated season to watch. As the broadcast tried to compare the Birmingham Stallions to the 1972 Dolphins or 2007 Patriots, the Stallions managed to lose for the first time in front of the home fans. This may be a blessing in disguise for the league. The worst possible thing that could have happened was the Stallions going undefeated in the regular season and immediately getting blown out in Canton. That would have raised serious questions about the fairness of the hub model, which the USFL is likely to use again next season. But with the Gamblers knocking them off this week—and of course it was the Gamblers, who but the Gamblers could have had the prerequisite craziness to end a perfect season—now the league can point to that game as proof that anything can happen any week, even if homefield advantage remains in one team's favor.

Here are your penultimate USFL SRS/EVOA ratings!

2022 USFL Rankings, Week 9
Rk Team W-L SRS OSRS Rk DSRS Rk EVOA Off
EVOA
Def
EVOA
1 Stallions 8-1 6.9 3.1 2 3.4 2 17.3% 8.2% -9.1%
2 Breakers 6-3 4.9 0.7 4 4.2 1 13.1% 1.7% -11.3%
3 Generals 8-1 3.6 1.9 3 1.7 3 9.7% 5.1% -4.6%
4 Stars 6-3 1.1 6.3 1 -5.2 8 3.0% 17.0% 14.1%
5 Gamblers 2-7 -2.5 -0.0 5 -2.5 7 -6.9% -0.1% 6.8%
6 Bandits 4-5 -2.8 -4.4 7 1.7 4 -7.5% -11.9% -4.4%
7 Panthers 1-8 -2.8 -0.8 6 -2.0 6 -7.6% -2.2% 5.4%
8 Maulers 1-8 -7.9 -6.7 8 -1.2 5 -21.4% -18.0% 3.4%

Poor performances by the Stallions, Generals, and Stars all knock them down a few percentage points, while the Breakers solidify themselves in a clear second place. But our four playoff teams remain atop our standings; you can't say the wrong teams are headed to Canton by any stretch of the imagination.

Down in the dregs, the Gamblers' massive upset over the Stallions is enough to vault them up into fifth place. The Gamblers had been so close all season long to pulling out victories; it really is something of a feel-good story to see them finally win one here at the end. It gives them more cred than the Bandits, at any rate, who have so far failed to win a game against any of the four playoff teams.

Your playoff matchups in two weeks are Stars-Generals and Breakers-Stallions. The Stallions won the first two matchups against the Breakers, but the game two weeks ago was decided by one point. As for the North, the Generals handled the Stars without too many problems back in Week 3, and they'll meet each other again next week in a game that's entirely meaningless. They'll play in back-to-back weeks, so it will be interesting to see their strategy for next Saturday's game.

On to this week's results!

New Jersey Generals 25, Michigan Panthers 23

The Generals used their tune-up game against the Panthers in part to try to figure out their quarterback situation going forwards. That, more than anything else, explains why the Panthers were able to keep this game close before Luis Perez and company were able to finish them off.

Yes, Perez. The Generals have gone through phases at the quarterback position this season, starting with a true platoon between Perez and De'Andre Johnson, and then later going with Johnson alone as their primary quarterback. That was when the Generals looked the most explosive, but an injury to Johnson forced Perez back in as the full-time guy, with the team improving around him week after week.

That leaves the Generals in an awkward position going into the playoffs—which quarterback do you use? They went back to the platoon against Jeff Fisher's Panthers, but it didn't work. Johnson, in his first game back from injury, was ineffective. He went 5-for-8 passing for 60 yards and an interception, had only 4 yards on five rushes. He did lead the Generals to nine of their 25 points, but they had significantly more trouble moving the ball forward with Johnson in. He wasn't helped by Darius Victor being slowed down by a toe injury, but the vaunted Generals run game was held to 108 yards on 25 attempts—still good, but far from the engine that ran the team during the middle of the season.

Instead, it was mostly defense and special teams that ended up saving the day for the Generals as they clinch the USFL North. KaVontae Turpin scored the first punt return touchdown in the league, and Cam Echols-Luper had a huge kickoff return leading up to the final drive. Trae Elston, Paris Ford, and Toby Johnson all came down with interceptions. The Generals won despite being outgained by the Panthers both overall and on a per-play basis because of big plays from their other two platoons.

Credit where credit is due—the Panthers made a game of it. With Paxton Lynch unavailable and Shea Patterson unwanted, Kyle Love started the game at quarterback and threw a pair of touchdowns to go with his interceptions. Joe Walker had 129 yards and two scores on seven receptions, and the Panthers actually had a lead late in the fourth quarter. Love, unfortunately, was knocked out of the game, leaving Eric Barriere as the last quarterback standing for Pittsburgh. Until then, though, the game was close.

In the end, it was Darrius Shepherd who ensured the Generals won the North. Shepherd had eight catches for 99 yards, including the game-winning touchdown on a fade route with 2:28 left in the game. Both touchdown passes came from Perez, and the question as to whom the Generals should start in Canton remains unanswered. I'd expect them to bust the platoon out one more time next week to see if Johnson looks better with less rust, because the Generals were at the best running their option-based attack with Johnson in the backfield. If he can't regain the magic, however, there are far worse options than slinging it with Perez.

Houston Gamblers 17, Birmingham Stallions 15

Pop the champagne, Larry Csonka! Your 1972 Dolphins are still the last undefeated champions in football history. Wait, this is just the USFL, and you're still actively suing them over the use of the trademarks. Pop a Natty Lite or something instead.

In a game between one team that always seems to lose at the last second and another that always seems to win at the last second, you can understand why Gamblers fans would be skeptical when they took a 17-12 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Gamblers had one win for a reason, letting teams come back on them over and over again. And Birmingham has been the best second-half team in the league; surely it was just a matter of time before the Stallions stole win No. 9.

Nope! Despite outgaining the Gamblers 329 yards to 187 and holding the Gamblers to just 29 yards on the ground, Birmingham lost. It wasn't even really because of turnovers, although the Stallions' one interception was a killer. No, the Gamblers won the Gamblers way—with crazy nonsense. I commend them for sticking with the bit.

The Gamblers' margin of victory comes from a safety, with Birmingham quarterback J'Mar Smith being called for intentional grounding in the end zone. Chris Odom didn't record a sack, but harried the Stallions all day long and is ultimately the one responsible for these two points.

The Gamblers also found plenty of non-offensive ways to move the football. Their first field goal drive was sparked by a 58-yard kickoff return by JoJo Ward. Their second field goal drive was saved by multiple Stallions penalties, converting a third down by pass interference and a fourth down by offsides. Their touchdown drive combined both, with Ward's solid kickoff return and two Stallions penalties setting Kenji Bahar and the offense up for the go-ahead score. To Bahar's credit, he went 16-for-24 for 164 yards and a touchdown and was the Gamblers' leading rusher with 36 yards; he just received significant help from his special teams and from an undisciplined Stallions defense in this one.

The Stallions moved the ball against the Gamblers' defense, with Smith throwing for 260 yards and multiple receivers going over the 50-yard mark. They just had bad habit of stalling out at the worst possible times, with three red zone appearances resulting in three field goals of less than 30 yards. That's conservative to a fault, and the points they left on the field came back to haunt them. Birmingham had the ball with 1:44 left to try to save their perfect season, but Smith was intercepted by Micah Abernathy. The Gamblers finally, finally pick up a second win, and against the best team in the league. Of course they did. That's just Gamblers football.

New Orleans Breakers 17, Tampa Bay Bandits 6

With their season on the line, in an absolute must-win game if they were going to make the playoffs, the Bandits came up small. While Jordan Ta'amu threw for 288 yards, he also threw a pair of backbreaking picks, and both Rashard Davis and B.J. Emmons lost fumbles as the Bandits turned the ball over four times. The Bandits were also flagged 13 times.

The Breakers didn't play their best game either, mind you. Kyle Sloter threw yet another interception; he and Ta'amu are now tied for the league lead with 11 apiece. They also averaged only 3.8 yards per play as the Bandits actually were more effective moving the ball. They didn't even crack 100 yards through the air! None of that mattered, though, because the defense looked more like the one we saw in the first few weeks of the season, forcing turnovers and stuffing runners behind the line of scrimmage.

The Bandits tried to make a game of it late, and they at least avoided a repeat of the 34-3 pasting they suffered back in Week 2. But we have been saying all year long that the Bandits were just not in the same tier as the top teams of the league, despite their record. All of their wins have come against the worst three teams in the league, and the fact that they're not going to Canton shouldn't come as a major surprise to anyone. While Ta'amu came into the league with the expectations that came with being one of the XFL's top passers, he hasn't had the same touch in the USFL. Not that there have not been highlights, but the Bandits have been much closer to the bottom of the league than the top, and they proved it again on Sunday.

Philadelphia Stars 17, Pittsburgh Maulers 16

This game might have been meaningless for the standings, and in front of a mostly empty stadium in a third-tier league, but don't let anyone tell you for a moment that the players don't care.

The Stars offense was a disaster in this one. Case Cookus, who only played the first half as the Stars rest up for the postseason, was 5-for-13 for 62 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Backup K.J. Costello wasn't much better as the early-season Stars line made an unfortunate reappearance. The Maulers swarmed their way to four sacks and many more hurries, hits, and pressures as they contained the best offense in the league.

And, with nothing to lose, the Maulers threw out all the stops. Special teams trickery was the name of the day. Punter Max Duffy pulled off a fake in the second quarter, hitting Hunter Thedford for 19 yards to keep the ball in Maulers hands. The drive stalled out again, but then kicker Ramiz Ahmed took the ball on a no-look toss from the holder and found linebacker Malcolm Howard in the end zone.

As far as I can tell, no NFL team has ever had a kicker and punter both complete a pass in the same game—or, at least, not since 1950 when free substitution became a thing and "kicker" or "punter" could be your primary job description. Innovative football from the Maulers there. Ahmed had himself a day—not only did he throw the touchdown pass, but he also hit a 59-yard field goal and … well.

The Maulers were up 16-10, and it looked like they were on their way to their second win of the season. And then, on back-to-back plays, disaster struck. First, Ahmed Dixon came through the line completely unblocked, basically taking the handoff himself. Forced fumble, ball goes to the Stars.

On the very next play, Matt Colburn took the handoff and was gone.

The Maulers fumbled on their next possession too, but got the ball back, down one, with just over two minutes left in the game. They stalled out in field goal range, and Ahmed had the chance to be the hero, lining up for a 49-yarder … which leaked out to the right, no good. Stars survive.

Comments

5 comments, Last at 15 Jun 2022, 1:09pm

#1 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jun 14, 2022 - 9:58am

Sloter is like... really bad?

Wow I really like football. 

Points: 0

#2 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 14, 2022 - 2:13pm

Sloter's had significantly better games than this one, but he has an aggravating habit of throwing INTs at the worst possible times.  He's an upper-half quarterback in the USFL; what that says about the league is left as an argument for the reader.

Points: 0

#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 15, 2022 - 12:54pm

Are there season stats anywhere for USFL players?

Points: 0

#5 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 15, 2022 - 1:09pm

FOX has most of the stats up on their site.  It's not the world's greatest interface, and finding game-by-game stats basically requires combing through the old games one at a time, but it is something.

https://www.foxsports.com/usfl/stats

Points: 0

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